Thursday, April 14, 2011

Suffering is a minset.

As I sat with our 31 year old daughter before she went into surgery and waiting while she was in surgery, I was thinking of a friend who has been setting with her 29year old son as he takes his chemo, praying to rid his body of Stage IV colon cancer. It was when I was in the waiting phase that I was thanking God that Chrissy didn't have a serious disease; she was having a minor procedure to correct a lazy eye that she has had since birth. At the same time I was letting God know that I was really tired of suffering. If it's not me suffering, it's Estela. If it's not my family, it's my friends. God I'm really weary from sufferings.

That's when I heard the voice. He said "SUFFERING IS A MINDSET!" As I contemplated this, I looked around the waiting room. There were several children in the room that ranged from around 2-4 years of age. Their parents were waiting for the call to take them back for the surgery or waiting for the surgeon to come out and give them the report. The children were a little grumpy but not bad considering they hadn't had anything to eat or drink for over 8 hours. You could tell from observation and eavesdropping on the parents, that some of them had been there before and, others, it was their first time.

I don’t propose to understand all of this suffering. Yet, His word to me seemed to give an assurance that He is present and has a purpose in our sufferings. Here's what I think the Lord was showing me:

1) Suffering is a matter of experience. Some of the parents in the waiting room had experienced this scenario before. Obviously, they were concerned for their baby's health but experience had taught them that it probably was going to be okay. Others there had been there several times. Even though they were concerned, this was old hat to them. Still, others there, this was there first time. They were visibly upset and anxious. Regardless, they were there because they believed it was beneficial for them or their child.

If you think about it, have we ever experienced life without sufferings? To me, the answer is no. There are some seasons where sufferings are less and some where sufferings are greater but, in reality, there are always some degrees of sufferings in life. The Scriptures teach us that "we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now." (Rom 8:22) Even the entire creation sighs and cries out in suffering as it waits for the redemption of Christ Second Coming. No one knows for sure how those sighs and cries are manifested but maybe they are the things we call natural disasters. Maybe the tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, floods, and other things of nature are the whole creation crying out in suffering.

When the intensity of our suffering is kicked into high gear, it seems, in comparison, that we didn't have much suffering at all before. That’s when we desire to return to the times of less suffering. We get weary of the suffering. It seems the weights of the burdens are just too great to bear. Yet, we cannot experience Christ in a greater way without experiencing sufferings in a greater way. The greater we know Him the greater our suffering. For it is in the midst of experiencing sufferings that we experience Him. This is why Paul could say, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Phil 3:8-10) Because he, Paul, has more experience than us in suffering he encourages us to “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” He confidently tells us “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.” And Peter can exhort us that, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Pet 5:10)

Sometimes, we, like Job, question God with “Why is light given to him who suffers.” (Job 3:20) It seems cruel that we know a better way, we see a better way, but we still suffer. God’s answer is “From the wicked their light is withheld.” (Job 38:15) Is it better to have the light in suffering or not have the light at all? Maybe we suffer because we do see the light. Would it be better to not see the light at all? All people on the face of the earth suffer. The only difference is whether the sufferings are done in the light or in the darkness. The only difference between the sufferers is where they end up.

If our mindset is that suffering is inevitable we will not “be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Pet 4:12-13) Though we will get tired of sufferings and weary in it, we will, in the end, be able to “keep on rejoicing” because we know that it is beneficial for us. And although we know it is beneficial for us we will still get tired of it and weary in it. Why? Because that is there we encounter Christ and hear Him say “My grace is sufficient for you, for [My] power is perfected in [your] weakness.” (2 Co 12:9). We cannot experience His fullness, faithfulness, and favor without experiencing His sufferings. The Bible promises us that “just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” (2 Co 1:5) To the degree that we experience sufferings is the degree to which we experience His comfort. In the experience, “keep on rejoicing.”

2) Suffering is a matter of expectations. We were there in that waiting room, along with all the others there, because we expected that why we were there was going to be helpful. The parents of those children would not have been there and turn their babies over to those surgeons unless they completely and absolutely believed in medical science and expected good to come from it. By doing what they were doing, those parents subjected their children to sufferings. Their children feel anxiety, panic, fear, confusion, aloneness, isolation, abandoned, grief, loss, insecurity, distress, emptiness, agitations, anger, not to mention the physical pain of the surgery.

Without reducing God to humanity, could it be that God is completely “aware of our sufferings” (Ex 3:7) as He was the Israelites in captivity, yet understands that it is going to be beneficial to us? Like the “woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak” (Mt 9:20), maybe He expects us to come to Him in our sufferings. As our creator, maybe He knows that the influence of sin on us will cause us to become complacent in our relationship with Him without something to drive us to Him. After all, that has been the pattern of man all through the Bible. God delivers, man becomes complacent, God allows sufferings, and man turns to God. The grace of God in this pattern is that, it is the influence of sin that causes our suffering.

Turning to God when we suffer is inferred in the First Epistle of Peter when Peter wrote, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Pt 4:19) There it is. There is a suffering that God wills and as we go through it we are to trust our Sovereign Creator to always do what is right. “It is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” (1 Pt 3:17) Sometimes it is God’s will for us to suffer. If we suffer for doing wrong then we suffer justly. If we suffer for doing what is right then we suffer righteously. If we suffer for doing what is right, others will notice, just as the thief who was crucified with Jesus. While observing Jesus being crucified, he said to his cohort in crime, “we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Lk 23:41). This is why Peter instructs that we understand, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” (1 Pt 2:20) There is a grace that God gives when living the best we can, we suffer, and we patiently endure it.

Not only is there a suffering that is the will of God, but there is also a suffering that is a gift from God: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Phil 1:29) “It has been granted” is the phrase that carries the idea of someone doing a favor for someone. So, there is such a thing as the gift of sufferings. Sometimes God does us a favor by allowing us to suffer. Just as it is by grace that we believe in Him it is also by grace that we suffer “for His sake.” In context it seems apparent that this suffering is because of being a believer, to suffer on behalf of Christ. Yet, couldn’t the idea of suffering on behalf of Christ mean to suffer gracefully testifying of Christ in the face of a hostile world. “To suffer for His sake” does not tell us what kind of suffering one goes through but that the gift of suffering is for believers as they live out their lives for Christ.

How could we expect anything less than the Author and Perfecter of our faith? “For it was fitting for Him [Father], for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings… Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” (Heb 2:10; 5:8) Jesus started early in His earthly ministry teaching the disciples that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.” (Lk 9:22) After the resurrection Jesus miraculously joined two disciples as they walked on the road to Emmaus. Not recognizing Him, they began expressing their despondency in the crucifixion and death of Jesus. As Jesus listened to them, He questioned their belief in what had been written, when He said, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:26)

If it was necessary for Christ to suffer, should we not expect that there is the necessity that we, too, must suffer in order to learn obedience and to bring us to completion. This leads me to understand what Peter wrote, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose.” (1 Pt 4:1) With this exhortation there comes the expectation of suffering. What difference does it make, if, when we suffer, it is expected? First, if it is expected, it does not catch us off guard. We are not “surprised at the fiery ordeal among” us. If we are not shocked when sufferings come there is a higher probability that we won’t start wondering if we are being punished, if God is angry with us, if God cares, or if we even know God. Expectation allows us the freedom to rest in the sovereignty of God and that His character in dealing with us, His children, is through His love, grace, and forgiveness. We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Rom 8:17)

Expect to suffer. He told us we would. Stop being surprised by it. Expectation will take the sting out of sufferings. Being Christian does not exempt us from sufferings. If it did, everybody would want to be a Christian for the wrong reason. Some people obviously believe that God owes them a life without sufferings because they fall away from the faith when they find themselves suffering. Some believers, who are truly saved, have a belief system that holds to a belief that God should spare us from sufferings if we serve Him. When they suffer they lose their joy and go into deep depression. They get angry at God for allowing the sufferings and they stay mad at Him if the suffering doesn’t stop. Other believers deny reality when they put on their fake smiles and “praise the Lords” in the midst of the sufferings. Suffering doesn’t seem to faze them in the least little bit because they are not in touch with their own emotions.

Yes there are sufferings in life. Yes, even Christians suffer in life. After all, He “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:45) Expect it. God expects us to turn to Him in our sufferings. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh 8:10). He’s not angry with us. He’s not punishing us. His love for us has not diminished. His grace will get us through it. Don’t compare your sufferings with someone else’s sufferings. If we’re going to compare our sufferings, let’s be like Paul and compare them to eternity. Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18) In the expectation, “keep on rejoicing.”

3) Suffering is a matter of example. “Since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” (1 Pt 1:21) Jesus set the example for us in sufferings. He walked this way before, blazing the trail for us. Now, He empowers us to walk the faith-walk while going through sufferings. The idea is not, “if He can do it I can do it”, but, “because He did it for me, I don’t have to do it, all I have to do is rest in Him.” If I follow in His steps I will suffer because He suffered but His comfort will be mine, as well.

This is nothing new. It was a reality in the Old Testament, too. “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” (Jam 5:10) Not only did Jesus set the example but the prophets of old also set an example for us. They lived patiently in the midst of sufferings as an example to us. Satan, like a roaring lion, will try to devour us and destroy us through sufferings. He will try to corrupt our faith. He will try to steal our joy. He will lie to us about our victory. The Apostle Peter tells us how to deal with him as he tries to intimidate us with his loud roars. “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” (1 Pet 5:9) Resist him. Stand firm in your faith. Look around and see all the examples of faithful followers who have been and are still going through sufferings. My father taught me and I taught my children; just look around and you will find someone who has it worse than you.

Realize that as we go through sufferings we become an example to others. We are either a good example or a poor example. But don’t just live to be an example. LIVE BECAUSE YOU ARE ALIVE IN CHRIST. Suffer in your love for God. Love Him more than you hate the suffering. He has everything in control and nothing we go through catches Him by surprise.

Hebrews 12:1-3
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us [and all the examples, past and present], let us also lay aside every encumbrance [like expecting God to treat us different than He has anyone else] and the sin which so easily entangles us [like disbelief in His sovereignty and trusting Him with everything dear to us], and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us [life is a marathon not a sprint], 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy [keep on rejoicing; not talking about happiness but never losing our sense of humor because we know who holds the future] set before Him endured the cross [sufferings], despising the shame [not letting sin have the victory], and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [our promise of heaven]. 3 For consider Him [He set the example] who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself [no one has ever suffered so much], so that you will not grow weary [we get tired and weary but we don’t stay there] and lose heart [give up and revert back to our safe, old way of dealing with everything].

2 Timothy 2:12
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

1 comment:

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Thanks for sharing with us....

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